WireTap Lets Journalists Listen to Youth

By: Charles Bowen

For as long as most of us can remember, newspapers feverishly have courted the young, often with embarrassing results. Looking sometimes like the ultimate outsider tagging after The Kool Kids, we have for decades tried to speak the language and salute the latest icons of youth, frequently only to come across about as hip as a hoedown.

Perhaps the problem is that we keep trying to speak when we should be listening. The Web affords a world of truly youth-oriented listening posts where patient, insightful journalists can sample the diverse voices of their children.

A site I’ve become interested in recently is WireTap, the “independent information source by and for socially conscious youth.” On a Web notorious for its surface treatment of ideas and life around us, WireTap has depth. The electronic magazine digs into a broad range of topics, from reinstatement of the draft to racial diversity. It’s an unflinching look — some of your more easily offended readers might object, so it might not be a site you cite in your news columns — but it is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to know what’s on the minds of serious youth.

To get started, visit http://www.wiretapmag.org, where the frequently updated home page provides a kind of table of contents for the current issue. As with any magazine, the subjects vary on any given day. As I was researching this column, the front linked to summarized articles such as “Students Strike Back” (hundreds of high schools and colleges participating in a one-day strike for peace), “Young and Restless in the South” (young activists from Florida to Kentucky), “Sports Slurs: When Words Go Foul” (“racial, religious and ethnic insensitivity in the sporting world is only getting worse”), and “Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Programs Leave American Teens in the Dark.”

The site also has an extensive backlog of previous reports. Click on the “Archives” link in the navigation bar at the left of the screen and on the subsequent display, choose whether to search by date or topic. The latter is especially useful for browsing journalists, since the resulting screen groups previous reports by a large number of subjects, from activism, alcohol, and drugs, arts and culture, education and environmentalism to family, fun and recreation, race and culture, religion and spirituality, sex and gender, and youth rights.

The site also provides a good search engine. Scroll any page to watch for the white “Search” box in the left column. Type a word or phrase in the data-entry area. The feature then scans back reports and displays a hyperlinked list of matches, in order of relevance.

Other considerations for using WireTap in your research:

1. You might want to advise your education reporter about the site’s Youth Media Network (reached through the “Youth Network” link on the navigation bar at the left of any page in the site). This is a portal for other youth-oriented sites around the Web, including high school and college newspapers, with short descriptions, contact information, and direct links.

2. The site also keeps a calendar of youth-oriented events around the country, these days with special emphasis on war-related activities. Click the “Events” link on the navigation bar to reach it.

3. Based in San Francisco, WireTap is a project of AlterNet.org and the Independent Media Institute. For more information about these operations, visit http://www.alternet.org.

You can read the last 20 “Reporter’s Digital How-to” columns on our index page. Subscribers may access previous columns from our archives.

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